Thursday, April 26, 2018

A 90-year-old postcard, a message to Elsie and a beheading

Today's vintage postcard is a dandy submission from Wendyvee of Wendyvee's Roadside Wonders, which is currently showcasing a two-part post about the bizarre and outrageous Gettysburg Dime Museum.

This postcard is at least 90 years old, because it was postmarked in 1928. It features the Elks Monument at historic Penn Park in York, Pennsylvania.

The park was gifted to the city by John Penn and John R. Coates on June 11, 1816, as a 20-acre public common (plus a potter's field), according an article on As for the mighty elk monument, its fate is similar — or perhaps even worse — than the Harrisburg rose garden that became a parking lot, which was discussed yesterday on Papergreat.

A 2011 article on quotes York County historian Mel Miller with this information about the Elks Monument:
"Shortly after the erection and dedication of the Solders and Sailors Monument June 15, 1898, the Order of Elks erected a rockery at a cost of $2,200. Vandals beheaded the elk in 1987, and, after receiving an estimate of $18,000 to repair it, the City of York decided to remove it."
So the monument survived 89 years, through most of the tumultuous 20th century, only to have its head chopped off in the year of Alysheba and Three Men and a Baby. By the way, that 1898 price tag of $2,200 for the monument would equate to more than $65,000 today, so it was both an impressive and costly.

Turning to the back, this postcard was mailed to Elsie Buhrman in Smithsburg, Maryland. The note states:
We arrived home safely about 5 P.M. Sure enjoyed my "Chicken Dinner." Also rest of us. We will come up again some day. Write and come down I'll take you to any picnic you want.
"Love" Helen
The two phrases in quotation marks are either insignificant or quite curious, depending on one's interpretation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"Robe of Useful Items" and other old D&D scribblings

Sarah and I broke out the dice and graph paper for a freestyle session of D&D last night. She created Daryl the Ranger, Phoenix the Wizard, and Pane the Thief and led them through the introductory stages of the exploration of a mysterious old house sitting atop a hill.1 I mostly did the DM work off the top of my head, streamlining everything greatly for simplicity. But, for the occasional inspiration — and to keep Sarah guessing about what might be around the next corner — I did some flipping through a few old-school modules that I brought to the table.

And that brings us to a "Tucked Away Inside" moment. Someone's old character sheets fluttered out from inside my used copy of The Ghost Tower of Inverness. They were pre-generated sheets for Li Hon the Monk, Lembu the Fighter, Zinethar the Cleric, and Hodar the Magic-User.2 Sarah thought they were really cool, and I found them nostalgic and amusing. Many, many moons ago, some kids clearly had a fun afternoon or evening with this 1979 module by Allen Hammack.

The characters went through some battles, for sure. Pencil additions show that Zinethar's hit points tumbled from 72 to 27. And Lembu's appear to have gone from 70 to 0. Poor Lembu.

Hodar's equipment list included a torch, a Wand of Wonder, a Magic Missel [sic] Wand, a ladder and the Robe of Useful Items. Regarding that robe, according to the D&D Wiki:
"This appears to be an unremarkable robe, but a character who dons it notes that it is adorned with small cloth patches of various shapes. Only the wearer of the robe can see these patches, recognize them for what items they become, and detach them. One patch can be detached each round. Detaching a patch causes it to become an actual item."
It's basically a deus ex machina as a piece of clothing. In this case, Hodar's magic robe contained patches for two daggers, two lanterns, two mirrors, two lengths of rope, two large sacks, and two of D&D's infamous ten-foot poles. Thus, the robe seemingly contained everything a party might need to get out of a jam when trapped deep in a dungeon and running out of time and/or hope. On the Giant in the Playground forum, BWR noted the following about the robe in 2013:
"The one time I've encountered it we argued about who was going to take the crappy thing. Next session it saved our lives and we started worshipping it. Being able to pull a large door, ladders, holes and whatnot from it can be extraordinarily useful. Of course, we were about 5th level when we got it, so its utility decreases as characters get better gear and, most importantly, more magic."
Some other fun tidbits from those old Inverness character sheets:

  • Zinethar might have had many dealings with snakes. He had a snake-charm spell, a stick-to-snakes spell, and a Staff of Python. He also had a Raise Dead sroll [sic]. Wonder if it was used to help Lembu?
  • Li Hon had a Cloak of Elvin Kind, better known as the Cloak of Elvenkind, which greatly improves one's ability to hide.
  • Li Hon also had a Cube of Force, which sounds way more complicated than anything I'd want to manage as a freestyle, storytelling DM.

1. I'm not sure if Sarah is reading this, but if she is, here are some hints: Go back into those rooms you already explored, and (a) look inside the suit of armor and (b) look under the rug. Always look under the rugs!
2. Not to be confused with that poor guy Hodor from Game of Thrones.

Book cover: "Archaeology in the U.S.S.R."

  • Cover title: Archaeology in the U.S.S.R.
  • Inside title: Archaeology in the USSR
  • Does that discrepancy make me itchy? Yes
  • Author: Aleksandr L'vovich Mongait (1915 - 1974)
  • Translator: M.W. Thompson
  • Cover design: Juliet Renny
  • Publication year: 1961
  • Publisher: Pelican Books, a non-fiction imprint of Penguin Books.
  • Original publication: 1955, in the Soviet Union
  • 1961 cover price: $1.45 (the equivalent of $12 today)
  • My price: $2, at Mullen Books in Columbia, Pa.
  • Pages: 320
  • Format: Paperback
  • Back-cover blurb: "The Soviet Union is a country of many different languages and peoples. So a book dealing with its archaeology must range from Stone Age Russia to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea — from the Slavs of what is now European Russia to the desert forts of Central Asia, held by Arab, Turkic, and other rulers. This book is also fascinating for two other reasons. In the first place Soviet archaeology is almost unknown in the West, and the reader will discover that Russian achievements here fully match those in better known fields such as space travel. Secondly Dr Mongait is a Communist, and this will be a chance for many people to see the Marxist interpretation of history applied to archaeology. There are nearly 91 illustrations in the book."
  • So that means there are 90 illustrations? Yes. Or perhaps 89.
  • First sentence (skipping two prefaces, a foreword, an acknowledgement and a note): "Archaeology belongs to that group of sciences which was born only recently and has developed quickly."
  • Last sentence (not including the conclusion): "A systematic survey of the towns and hill-forts must be made and an archaeological map of the ancient Russian towns drawn up."
  • Random excerpt from the middle #1: "The barrows at Noin-Ula are the remains of a Hunnish aristocracy. They are fairly well dated to about the beginning of our era, for in one of the barrows a small Chinese lacquered tea-cup was found bearing an inscription attributed to the second century B.C."
  • Random excerpt from the middle #2: "The descendants of the people of Uellen were more advanced. They lived in small rectangular earth-houses with a paved stone floor and long walls. The hunting of sea animals was carried on in the open sea in skilfully constructed skin boats."
  • Amazon insight: Here's an interesting excerpt from what Paul Lawrence wrote on in August 2011:
    "First off let me point out that this book is quite old. Late 50s or thereabouts. It was part of a rather large series of books with blue covers that were aimed at the general layman and as such readability and conciseness were greatly valued by the publishers. Many of them are still to be found in 2nd hand bookstores and the like and are often well worth picking up as even though they are quite dated their style and succinct nature makes them valuable as an entry point for the non expert. Which, of course, is where I would be coming into the story. ...

    "The work covers a broad range of history — it really is aimed at being a primer — but what is perhaps also interesting for those wanting to delve deeper into this subject is the brief rundown of Russian archaeology in general given in the early part of the book. A whole range of names I was unfamiliar with are thrown at the reader and certainly the keen student should be able to track down information on these historians should they choose to do so. All up this was an interesting addition to the series of history books of which it was a part and as long as you approached it with an eye to its age and its intentions then I'm sure you will get some value out of it."
  • Two translations: There were dueling translations of Mongait's original Russian-language work, which was published in 1955. In addition to this 1961 Pelican paperback, Archaeology in the U.S.S.R., as translated by David Skvirsky, was published in 1959 by the Foreign Languages Publishing House of Moscow. Reviewing both books for American Anthropologist in 1962, Temple University's Henry N. Michael wrote: "Of the two translations, Thompson's is by far the easier one to read and digest. This is due largely to the skill of the translator, but also to the omission of the stilted and oft repeated sentences or passages of ideological character..."

The book includes 24 pages of illustrations, including this image of barrows in Poltava.

Vintage linen postcard: Harrisburg's municipal rose garden

This "Genuine Curteich-Chicago" linen postcard shows off the "Municipal Rose Garden, Another Beauty Spot in Harrisburg, Pa."

Today, this spot is a parking lot.
sad emoji / angry emoji

But I'm getting ahead of myself.'s Deb Kiner did a nice little history piece in 2015 about the rose garden. Some historical highlights, and one lowlight:

  • The Municipal Rose Garden along North Third Street in Harrisburg to the west of Polyclinic Hospital was dedicated on Sept. 15, 1938.
  • It featured thousands of rosebushes and a reflecting pool measuring 20 feet by 317 feet.
  • The garden included the "Dance of Eternal Spring" fountain now at Italian Lake. [For much more about the fountain, see Kiner's article.]
  • The garden eventually was converted by the hospital into a parking lot, leaving the statue on a small patch of green for a while. [Kiner's article doesn't give a date for when paradise was paved over, but I'm guessing it was sometime in the 1960s.]

This postcard was once glued into someone's scrapbook and then damaged significantly when, many years later, it was removed from that book. I bought it for a pittance in an antique store. There's a tear on the card and half of the back came off when it was separated from the glue. Thus, this is the only part of the cursive pencil message that remains:
Dear Unc. Andy
I ... out
to ... park yes- Now I am
home in bed a-
Warren [?]

Monday, April 23, 2018

Old snapshot of Mersey Tunnel

As both the family historian and an ephemerologist, I sometimes get things a little mixed up. The family photos get mixed in with other folks' vernacular photos that I've accumulated over the years, and vice versa. (It's like mixing the chocolate and the peanut butter in those iconic 1970s and 1980s Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercials. Or maybe it's not like that at all.)

Thus, it happens that I'm not sure which category this snapshot falls into — family photo or non-family photo.

If I had to guess, I'd say it's a family photo.

The three-inch-wide, black-and-white image has this caption written in block letters on the back: "THE MERSEY TUNNEL THATS WERE ALL THE CARS ARE GOING."

There are actually three Mersey Tunnels in the United Kingdom, connecting Liverpool and the Wirral Peninsula. There's a railway tunnel that opened in 1886 and two tunnels for autos — one opening in 1934 and a second opening in 1971.

If this is one of our family photos, it's probably from the early 1960s. And, honestly, the cars make it look like that might be the right era, anyway. Any thoughts from experts on British car makes and models are more than welcome to share their thoughts!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day 2018 thoughts:
Edward Humes' "Garbology"

Nearly three years ago, in May 2015, I read Edward Humes' Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash while waiting long hours in the York County Judicial Center to see if I would be selected to sit as a juror in a murder trial. (I was not.)

Humes' book has stuck with me. Even before reading it, I have been trying over the past 15 years to make incremental and sustained personal improvements when it comes to recycling, the amount of waste I generate and the sustainability of things that I purchase. The book offered some good ideas and some sobering facts to chew on.

I took some notes and marked some passages while reading Garbology three years ago, and I want to share them for Earth Day 2018, as I also challenge myself to set the bar higher when it comes to being a better shepherd of the only Earth and environment that we have.

  • The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 released the equivalent of 2.5 supertankers of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. By contrast, the Pacific Garbage Patch contains enough plastic to fill 630 oil supertankers.
  • Parkinson's Law is that work expands to fill whatever time is available for its completion. Parkinson's Law of Garbage states, roughly, that the larger of a trashcan you are given, the more trash you will produce.
  • Separating out compostables from the other trash and recycling is mandatory in San Francisco. What if more places enacted this as law?
  • The average American throws 500 plastic bags into the trash each year. Breaking the plastic-bag habit is a first step in moving into less-wasteful-more-reusable consumer habits and behavior. Remove plastic bags completely from your lifestyle and then move on to dealing with other "disposables" that you don't truly need.
  • "Bags are kind of like the gateway drug to all the the plastics," says Andy Keller of ChicoBag, "and if we can kick that habit, all the rest of our single-use habits will start to fall like dominoes."
  • We need to drastically reduce our use of paper towels. [This is one I really struggle with, but am trying to challenge myself on.]
  • Eighteen million barrels of oil are used each year solely to haul plastic bottles filled with tap water around the United States. Read that again.
  • Humes writes: "It takes eight grams of oil to make a single plastic ketchup bottle, which will not be recycled because the ketchup residue inside is 'contamination' and recyclers want clean plastic. Dirty plastic is just too hard to recycle, too costly. Failing at the birth of the age of plastic to think this through, to consider the life cycle of substances that do not occur in nature and that are, for all intents and purposes, immortal, is like failing to think through what to do with nuclear waste at the birth of nuclear power ... which is exactly what we did."
  • Bea Johnson, an advocate of Zero Waste, offers these tips: Buy in bulk to eliminate how much packaging you're purchasing; use microfiber cloths instead of paper towels; use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
  • We need to stop managing waste and start wasting less in the first place.

If you're interested in more reading about Earth Day topics, pick up a copy of Garbology and/or see the links at the bottom of my 2016 Earth Day post.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Snapshot & memories: Adorable
little me on Mulberry Street

Yep, that's me. In a frankly adorable outfit that I no longer have. I should try to find a grown-up equivalent of that outfit and recreate the photograph, which seems to be the hip thing to do these days. But I'm not sure the world is ready for that kind of horror. We still have the chest, though. It's currently being used to store outgoing Pengins for Everyone.

This snapshot is from August 1975, the same month that the Helsinki Accords were signed, NASA launched Viking 1 toward Mars, and Bruce Springsteen released the Born to Run album.

This is the first house that I remember. It is located on Mulberry Street in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. Dad provides the following background:
"This was our first home after my discharge from the Marine Corps. We rented it. I was a church parsonage. Wood pocket doors between living room and dining room. Fireplace in dining room. Four bedrooms, and one bedroom had a door leading to spooky attic. Free-standing garage. Huge backyard. We had 20-foot by 20-foot garden. (Not a bad memory for an old man.)"
My memories of this house are not nearly as detailed or specific, because I was just a little kid. Photographs and stories told by my parents over the years help to "augment" my memories. Here are some of my own recollections and stories about the house on Mulberry Street:

  • My bedroom seemed huge to me. That is, of course, because I was hobbit-sized at the time. I had a stuffed alligator on one of the upper window ledges. I think it was named Myron.
  • This is the house in which I banged my head one night in the bathroom, giving myself a Harry Potter scar between the eyes decades before it was trendy.
  • The kitchen was relatively small and led to the backyard. I am told that I once locked my then-pregnant mother out of the house and stood there, like Damien Thorn, as she crawled through the kitchen window to regain entry to the house.
  • I remember Adriane, my newborn sister, staying in the bedroom/nursery adjacent to mine.
  • I have memories of running and playing in the backyard. There was a small slide (possibly the next-door neighbor's), and we would rub it down with wax paper to make it slippier. One time, while playing in the backyard at dusk, I was buzzed by a bat.
  • I don't have any recollection of the spooky attic that Dad mentioned. I would love a chance to tour the house again some day. I should watch for it being up for sale; maybe there will be an open house.

More in this series

Old postcard: 16th century Belém Tower in Lisbon, Portgual

This surreal-looking old photograph was a bit of mystery to me, because there was a serious curveball on the back.1 Someone, years ago, had written "Oran, Africa." There is no other text visible on the front or back. So, naturally, Oran — a millennium-old coastal city in Algeria — is where I began my research. I thought this might be one of the old forts there, perhaps the Fort of Santa Cruz. It is not.

This is, in fact, a mislabeled postcard.

This building is NOT in Oran. It's actually located about 500 miles to the northwest, across the Alboran Sea, in Lisbon, Portugal.

It's the Belém Tower (aka Tower of St Vincent). It was constructed in the early 16th century (between about 1515 and 1519) and was originally commissioned by John II of Portugal before his death in 1495. Belém Tower sits in an isolated spot on the northern bank of the Tagus River. The lower bastion offers 17 spaces that were once cannon positions. The bases of the turrets feature depictions of beasts, including a rhinoceros. The 98-foot tower has, among other features, a spiral staircase and a chapel. If you want to see more, check out this video tour on YouTube.

P.S. — Don't worry. I have added my own "caption addendum" to this postcard, so that a future ephemerologist doesn't suffer the same fate.

1. If English is not your first language, let me explain. In the American sport of baseball, a curveball is a "pitch" (a ball thrown to a batter) that spins downward as it travels from the pitcher to the batter, making it difficult to hit (if thrown correctly). But there is a second meaning of curveball, used as an everyday expression. Because a curveball is a tricky and difficult pitch to hit in baseball, an everyday curveball is any unexpected obstacle, challenge or mystery that a person or group encounters. The "unexpected" part is crucial to the everyday usage.